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The Chair

Take a minute and try, try hard, to imagine sitting in a chair for 12 hours (a day), 84 hours (a week), 2,520 hours (a month), 30,240 hours (a year), and 302,400 hours (a decade). I could keep going, but I hope by now you’ve got the point. Thisis not a “timeout” punishment. Can you imagine the repercussions today if a teacher made a child sit in a chair all day? While in the chair, you couldn’t leave to go to the bathroom, or get up to go to the dinner table, you’re there till taken out. This is just the situation some of us in the disabled community find ourselves in. Thank God someone, a long time ago, figured out to put wheels on the chair so we can at least move around. Depending on the level of injury, travel can be initiated with the hands, a joystick or movement of the chin or head.

Some individuals adjust to the situation better than others, but at the very least it generally takes some time. Looking back on my life prior to my injury, I have the impression that rarely did I ever see individuals with serious disabilities acting happy. In my memory, most seemed old and very unhappy. I purposely try to be animated and positive when out in public. Generally speaking, the other few wheelchair bound individuals I know often present in a similar manner.

Are we all acting? We can’t all be completely at ease with our situation. At times, I wonder if some people in the able-bodied community misinterpret this behavior, thinking maybe it’s not that tough to be in a wheelchair. Often when thinking about this, the words of one of Bob Dylan’s songs comes to mind. “Did you ever see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns when they did their tricks for you?” To be in the chair day in and day out is anything but easy, as anyone in a chair will tell you. Most people never see the struggles that go on physically and mentally each and every day. To have made the adjustment to living your life with value and dignity while dealing with a major disability is never easy. Every day is a struggle! Some days it’s easier to adjust than others. Some of the special days make most of the other days bearable. But let me assure you, if you’re not in a chair, you have no idea.

Reprinted by permission from Handihelp Blog. In 1965, after graduating from a SUNY College, Rich Fabend began teaching social studies in a small rural school in upstate New York. Over the next 32 years, he received certification as a high school principal, health teacher and teacher of special education. During a two-year hiatus from teaching in the public school system, he served as a Education Coordinator for the New York State Division for Youth. In February 1999, while on vacation in the Caribbean Rich was struck by a wave which drove him to the bottom, breaking four vertebrae in his neck and leaving him a C6 quadriplegic. After six months of hospitalization and extensive therapy at Craig Hospital, he was finally able to return home to begin his new life. “The readjustments demanded by our new lifestyle, while extremely difficult for my wife and myself, have been made easier by the continuous support of family and friends. I approach my new daily life with Christopher Reeve’s philosophy; I refuse to allow a disability to determine how I will live my life,” says Rich.

Slice of Life series articles are those that share the special experiences of those living in a wheelchair in a way that is witty, informational, poignant and even inspirational. Do you have a story? Share it with us at

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